Valbona – Theth – Komani : The Great Conundrum
Okay. This is absolutely the MOST asked question, and not asked merely as one question, but usually as a series of 5-25 “But what about . . . “-form questions. So I am going to do my best to present here everything you need to know to decide how to do this without waiting for me to answer your specific tangled yarn-ball of ideas! Although of course I’m happy to answer specifically, whenever I can get around to it. Tangled yarn is Fun!
You will immediately notice that the Valbona-Theth hike is on a completely opposite ‘leg’ than the Koman-Fierze boat trip, so there’s no way to do both without making a circle. Please note: 1) You cannot do both of them on the same day. 2) You cannot get from Theth to Koman without passing through (or at least by) Shkoder. 3) You cannot get from Fierze to Koman, or Koman to Fierze, without going on the lake (at least not in any sane way that wouldn’t be like getting from Paris to London by way of Lisbon). 4) You cannot drive from Valbona to Theth (or vice versa). 5) The Valbona pass (beween Valbona and Theth) is blocked by snow from November to May, so you cannot easily make the hike during that period. Read this if you don’t believe me. There are probably other ‘cannots’ but I cannot-think-of-them now. I’ll add ’em as they occur. What you can do is as follows:
Loops hitting each of Valbona, Theth and Komani Lake:
from S/W: Tirana or Podgorica to Shkoder -> Shkoder to Koman, Koman to Fierze, Fierze to Valbona -> Valbona to Theth -> Theth to Shkoder. NB: There is no reason you can’t reverse this order, but each leg still takes the same amount of time.
Each of these legs takes 1 reasonable day using public Transport (of course you can always push things if you do crazy taxi trips or hire private boats):
- Tirana or Podgorica to Shkoder (sleep there)
- Shkoder to Koman (bus), Koman to Fierze (boat), Fierze to Valbona (bus)
- Valbona to Theth (hiking)
- Theth to Shkoder (bus)
from N/E: Kosova to Valbona -> Valbona to Theth -> Theth to Shkoder -> Shkoder to Koman to Fierze to Kosova (each leg below is one reasonable day using public transport – or your feet)
- Prishtina, Prizren or Gjakova to Bajram Curri (bus), catch the daily 14h30 bus to Valbona
- Valbona to Theth (hiking)
- Theth to Shkoder (bus)
- Shkoder to Koman to Fierze to Bajram Curri to Kosova (buses and boats)
Straight Lines: If you want to begin in one place and end up somewhere else (fancy!) you will have to forgo either the Boat or Theth.
Personally, I would choose the Lake rather than Theth if you had to take one or the other. Theth is lovely of course, and very written about, but it is ¼th the size of Valbona (2,000 ha to Valbona’s 8,000ha) and as one guest wrote last year: “The hike to Thethi was great, as anticipated, but we found the village of Thethi, surprisingly, very much already “discovered” by everyone and their uncle! And new guest houses are being built everywhere! While we were happy for the locals with their growing tourism economy, we were most pleased that, without knowing in advance, we’d opted to spend 4 nights in Valbona.”
Therefore, here’s a nice little 4 night plan we just made for someone flying into Podgorica (Montengro) and leaving from Prishtina (Kosova), which you could obviously modify, but at least you know the times and feasibility work.
So: What do WE recommend?!
Here’s the little brochure I made. It’s meant to be printed front-to-back and then accordian-folded into a little 10cm square, and if you enjoy origami you’re welcome to try this. On the other hand, I think you can also just read it on the screen (click, please!), although it’s kind of weird that the back and front covers come at the far right like that . . . . oh well.
Still, f you want to plan your own route, I can tell you a few other useful things: When to Do the Hike: I repeat: The Valbona Pass is open from early June through early November. After that it’s blocked by snow, with a strong danger from avalanches. Boat Schedules: In winter only the daily ‘bus boat’ named Dragobia is running, but it runs every day including Sundays and holidays (except maybe for Bajrami?), unless the weather is so horrible that it just can’t run. A call the night before should reassure you about this. Mario Molla usually starts his daily boat around 1 May, and the Car Ferry should begin running daily again in summer 2015, but we won’t know till it does. All info about transport is here. Maps: Once you get to us (assuming that’s where you’re going) we have high-quality, waterproof printed maps with trail notes which we sell for 2€. Or you can grab a black and white cheapie copy for 1€ or whatever you want to donate. We do ask you to seriously consider giving something, as the money from the maps is the only thing paying for materials which local volunteers use to maintain hiking trails (marking, clearing, signage and maps). None of Albania’s National Parks have a budget (sigh). At the bottom of this paragraph is a lo-res copy of an old version of our Valbona to Theth Map, as an example. Baggage: Most places in Shkoder will happily store your extra luggage until you return, but if you want to bring everything with you, you can hire a horse in Valbona (or Theth if you’re coming from there) which comes with a boy, who will carry your bags. This usually costs 50€ for the day. Each horse can carry up to 60kg, or usually 4 people’s bags. We have a notice board where you can appeal to other people to share a horse with you, but of course that’s hard to arrange in advance. The boy can function as a guide, or run ahead and leave your bags at your guesthouse if you don’t feel like the company. Packed Lunches: We do pack lunches which include: Fresh Bread, cheese and sausages, a hard-boiled egg, tomato, fruit, and some form of biscuits or chocolate – if humanly possible we bake our own, but at very least you’ll get these very nice ‘Petit Ecolier’ biscuits we discovered in Bajram Curri with a superior chocolate-to-biscuit ratio! All this is 3€ at time of writing. What to Bring: Do bring lightweight waterproofs and a flashlight with rechargeable batteries. Dark is really dark here. Enormous hiking boots aren’t an absolute necessity, but you will want something with good grips, probably not sandals (although, to each their own). There are two easy-to-find springs along the way, so you don’t need carry a ton of water, but some yes definitely. Don’t be Intimidated: The hike to Theth was one of the first things to do that was talked about in the area, and it often gets written as if it were akin to scaling the Matterhorn or something – but in fact it is a very nice, not terribly challenging 6 hour hike (starting from the Trailhead in Rrogam). From the Valbona side you rise 800m in about 2 hours, and then it’s a gentle 1000m downhill on the other side. Some enterprising fellows from Theth have even built little Robinson-Crusoe style cafes next to the two springs, so you can even stop for a coffee along the way. Lots of people of all ages and fitness do it every year. You’ll be fine.
With all that said, I’ll add that of course there are other and more complicated things you can do, and we’re happy to help you plan them. The foregoing was just the basics!